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At this time many Rephaim giants evidently occupied a fertile valley just southwest of Jerusalem. Now called the Baqa´, this three-mile-long vale begins at the top of the valley of Hinnom and stretches south along the road to Bethlehem. But from the earliest times it was known as the "Valley of the Rephaim," or "Valley of the Giants."102 Because of its name, most scholars accept that this place once had "some connection with the giant race to which the term Rephaim was applied."103
Meanwhile, just north of Jerusalem lived the big Avvim. They originally inhabited the great western lowlands. Then came the Caphtorim, or the Philistines, as they are now commonly called.
Beit Jibrim, another ancient town connected by name with the giants, exists even to this day. Commanding the entrance to the Valley of Zephathah on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, this "House of the Gibborim" (for that is what Beit Jibrim means) contains "one of the most amazing cave-cities in the world."104 Here you can see "labyrinths of caves of varying size and complexity" that once housed a large tribe of giants. Historian A. T. Olmstead describes one of Beit Jibrim's enormous caves as measuring four hundred feet long, with a ceiling reaching to a height of eighty feet. He also saw another that contained as many as sixty chambers. Pick marks found on the walls of the huge rock chambers testify to the excavation work that their enormous inhabitants did on them. "We can understand why the name [Beit Jibrim] has persisted," says Olmstead, "when we enter the huge cave tombs . . . with their cisterns and oil presses. From the marks of metal implements on their walls we know that they cannot be earlier than Chalcolithic times."105
Many Rephaim giants also inhabited the north country. A historical source separate from Joshua's chronicles, but written about the same time, verifies that they ranged at least as far north as Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) on the Syrian coast. Discovered in 1928, these writings, which came to be called the Ras Shamra Texts, reveal not only the history, economy, and religion of Ugarit but also discusses in some detail the Canaanite religion and culture. Linguists who deciphered the cuneiform texts found in them frequent mention of the Rephaim.
Clearly, then, at the time of Israel's invasion, the Anakim, Awim, and Rephaim occupied all parts of God's land. And closely allied with them were their near-giant cousins, the Amorites.106 So it appears that in their many combats for possession of the land the Hebrews encountered many warriors of much greater height and bulk. Besides these, they also had to fight the militant Hivites, Hittites, Girgashites, Jebusites, Perizzites, and Canaanites. Because of interbreeding, the latter peoples no doubt included some giants in their ranks. But for the most part they stood about the size of the Israelites.
Even the brutal Amorites appear to have once been a people of normal stature. After they settled in Canaan early in the third millennium B.C., however, they evidently interbred with the Rephaim and Anakim, for Amos later described them as reaching the "height of cedars."107 Following its study of the social contacts between these two early Canaanite peoples, The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia suggested such a link. "The real Anakim," it declares, "may perhaps be identified with the Amorites, by whom they may have been ab-sorbed."108
While watching the billows of black smoke pile into the air from Jericho's burning, the Amorites who occupied the first mountainous strongholds and their Anakim neighbors who lived higher up no doubt wondered what the intruders would do next. They did not have to wonder long. For while the ruins of Jericho yet smoldered, Israel marched on Ai. It lay about ten miles west of Jericho, as the crow flies. But due to the winding mountain trails, the attacking force had to walk twice that far on foot. After overcoming Ai, the Hebrews slaughtered its twelve thousand inhabitants and also put that city to the torch. Up till now, the plan of attack mapped out by Moses and now being executed by Joshua had worked to precision. East of the Jordan the kingdoms of the giants Sihon and Og had been subdued. On these lands the tribes of Reuben and Gad and part of Manasseh had settled. Those conquests, plus the razing of Jericho, removed the threat of hostile forces attacking the Hebrews in their rear. They next struck through Canaan's central highlands. This move effectively sliced the country in two, thus preventing the northern and southern tribes from forming a united front. The capture of Ai and the subsequent fall of Bethel also gave the poorly armed Israelites another tactical advantage. For, with the overthrow of these two fortified cities, they gained command of the main high-way that ran north and south through the promised land. In later campaigns, control of this road would enable them to strike quickly to the south or march into the fertile northern districts unopposed.109
The destructions of Jericho, Ai, and Bethel, followed by an astounding defeat of Adonizedek's confederated armies at Gibeon, shocked Central Palestine's population. As the Hebrews continued their advance, fear so seized some of the Amorites and Hittites, that, according to a later statement by Isaiah, they forsook their cities and fled before Israel.110 Those who chose to stay and fight soon felt the sharp cutting edges of the Hebrews' swords, or crumpled under a barrage of rocks hurled from deadly accurate slings, or perished when well-aimed arrows pierced their flesh.
With the Canaanite forces thus reeling, Joshua quickly took Makkedah, then Libnah, then Lachish; then, after demolishing the army of Horam, king of Gezer, on the battlefield, he moved on to Eglon and done to it as he had done to all the other places in the Hebrews' train. Just how many giants the Hebrews fought at Gezer and in these other earlier battles we are not told.111 But now, with Eglon and Gezer having fallen, the sons of those Hebrews who at the first had refused to cross over into Canaan for fear of the giants boldly gathered before the gates of Hebron--the Anakim's chief city and major stronghold.